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Acting DA Flaherty won’t oversee sentencing in purse-snatching

A judge has appointed a special prosecutor to oversee the sentencing of a man convicted last year of robbing the mother of Erie County’s acting district attorney.

The case of Antonio Mercado, 39, has been moving through the court system since Sept. 24, 2014, when he was arrested by investigators from the District Attorney’s Office.

He was a suspect in a purse-snatching the previous evening, when two men stole the purse from the mother of Michael J. Flaherty Jr. near Elmwood and Lafayette avenues.

By the time Mercado came back for sentencing Friday, his victim’s son was the acting district attorney, taking over the office when Frank A. Sedita III became a State Supreme Court justice at the end of the year.

With Flaherty now in the top job, County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka decided that to avoid any appearance of impropriety, it would be appropriate to grant defense attorney Mark A. Sacha’s motion that a special prosecutor handle the case.

The judge assigned the matter to the office of Genesee County District Attorney Lawrence Friedman.

Sacha has complained since 2014 that the Erie County District Attorney’s Office violated Mercado’s civil rights by using its investigators to take Mercado into custody, rather than having Buffalo police handle the case.

Mercado’s initial arrest was for a stolen credit card found in his van when he was taken into custody. He eventually was charged with robbery in the purse-snatching involving Flaherty’s mother.

At the time of the robbery, Flaherty was first assistant district attorney and in charge of overseeing the office’s prosecutors, which Sacha says was a conflict of interest.

In November 2014, he went to court, asking that a special prosecutor be appointed for the case.

Meanwhile, Sedita reportedly ordered the assistant district attorney prosecuting Mercado to report to only him and not to discuss the case with Flaherty.

State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia determined that it was appropriate to insulate Flaherty from the case and denied the request for a special prosecutor.

But he also told Sacha that he was free to renew his motion when the case moved forward, if he felt that was warranted.

Although Mercado pleaded guilty to his role in the robbery in January 2015, the case lingered in court due to issues with his co-defendant.

By the time Mercado came back for sentencing Friday, his victim’s son was the acting district attorney and could no longer be insulated from the workings of his office.

With Flaherty now in the top job, and after a courtroom presentation by Sacha, Pietruszka granted the defense motion for a special prosecutor. The case returns to court Feb. 26.